Australian Teen Smoking Rates Hit Record Low: Regulations, Costs, And Teen Attitudes Cited


Teen Smoking Declines Precipitously In Australia, Changing Teen Attitudes, High Taxes Cited As Cause

Smoking continues to be a scourge of preventable disease and premature death. And the big dirty secret the tobacco companies don’t want you to know is that their entire business model is based on hooking kids when they are young. The developing adolescent brain is especially susceptible to chemical addiction. You’ve heard of the “Meth: Not Even Once” campaign–but when it comes to nicotine that dire prediction of addiction may really be true.

But one country has found a way to demonstrate a stunning turnaround on the teen smoking front, and they have done so in just a few short years.

Smoking among Australian adolescents–defined as those aged between 12 and 17 years– has hit a record low. Some say the change could be a portent of a smoke-free generation.

As recently as twenty years ago, 23.5 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds smoked cigarettes, and the average age when they began smoking was 14. Today, a mere 6.7 percent of youth in this age bracket smoke, and those that do begin on average at age 16.

Conjecture as to the reasons why spreads far and wide, ranging from increased prices, plain packaging, restrictions on advertising, and an increase in smoke-free areas. But some people also point out that attitudes toward smoking among Australian youth appears to be undergoing a metamorphosis. Teens seem to be following trends among adults in that they are favoring healthier lifestyle choices, for instance favoring fresh juice over alcohol.

For comparison’s sake, in the US in 2012, about 23 percent of male high school students and 18 percent of female students reported some form of tobacco use in the past month. Today about 13 percent of teenagers smoke once a month, according to another study. Tobacco use accounts for 30 percent of all US cancer deaths, and is responsible for nearly one in five deaths every year.

But the thing about teen smoking is that recent studies show that teen brains can become tolerant to nicotine after smoking fewer cigarettes than one per day. This tolerance–called dependence-related tolerance, a measure of how long after smoking a cigarette you can go before you crave another one–was previously thought to be the same for everyone. It is this heightened tolerance that may drive teens to smoke more and to smoke more often.

At any rate, kudos to Australia. Whatever it is they are doing, they are doing it right.

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